Book Review: Eqbal Ahmad: Critical Outsider and Witness in a Turbulent Age by Stuart Schaar


*Originally written for and published on Eqbal’s Ahmad’s fanpage:

Note:

In the “intellectual indolence” that has reigned in Pakistan, Eqbal Ahmad has been a flare of exception. Although I became acquainted with his life and work long after his demise, his intellectual honesty, courage and brilliance has taught me to think, to learn, to question and to speak up; inspiring me never to dim the dream of a progressive and peaceful Pakistan and world; to stay true to the pursuit of this vision. My admiration for him knows no bounds and I am truly indebted to his work that has educated and awakened the importance of an intellectual consciousness in me. And I would like nothing more than to consider myself but a student of his.

Book Review:

Political scientist, activist, writer, thinker and intellectual, Eqbal Ahmad (1930-1999) was a man beyond his times. Writing his obituary in 1999, the late Edward Said described him as a ‘Companion in arms to such diverse figures as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Richard Falk’, and ‘perhaps the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of Asia and Africa.’ Eqbal has rightly been called ‘the astute alarmist’  who uncannily foresaw future trends that later came to develop into concrete realities marking the world. And it is with six incredibly significant examples of this prophetic perspicacity, including the fallout of the Afghan War and that of a possible US invasion of Iraq, that Stuart Schaar begins his book on Eqbal Ahmad.

Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Schaar was friends with Eqbal since 1958 when they were both at Princeton. He carefully traces Ahmad’s journey from a little boy in Bihar who was an early witness to violence, a participant of the Partition, student at the Forman Christian College and Princeton University, one of the notorious Harrisburg 7 (a conspiracy case during the era of the Vietnam War in which the defendants were accused of a plot to kidnap Henry Kissinger), professor at Hampshire College in the US, to his return and final years in Pakistan. Each stage steering him towards the distinguished public intellectual and thinker he came to be; a transformation unveiled by light the book sheds on his personal, political and intellectual evolution.

Schaar writes, “The combination of originality, intelligence and fearlessness in confronting power, drew some of the major intellectuals on the Left towards him, including prominent figures in a variety of fields in the US, Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, and South Asia,. He socialized with writers from around the world and learned from them. He corresponded with leaders of the international Left and in the Indian/Pakistani subcontinent he knew and befriended some of the most gifted intellectuals, while political figures and military leaders courted him for advice.”

Indeed Eqbal Ahmad’s brilliance and numerous travels led to his contact and correspondence with countless people, both those within and outside the realm of power, including Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Frantz Fanon’s widow and Osama bin Laden, and various activists, diplomats, politicians, leaders, journalists, writers, revolutionaries from all over the world. The book makes sure to deal with this important aspect of his life. One of the instances, related to this, mentioned involves Habib Bourghiba’s attempts to get Ahmad to write his official biography while he stayed in Tunisia for his PhD thesis. Ahmad also came to be acquainted with various struggles, especially the liberation movement in Algeria against France.

As his friend, Schaar was able to gain insights not only from his own memories but also from the access he gained to the latter’s family, friends, colleagues and students. Their anecdotes and recollections paint a fuller picture of the person that Eqbal was in each of his relationships: as a father, teacher, friend, colleague and thinker.

[the book even sheds light on the gourmet chef Ahmad was, also including a whole recipe of his at the end]

One of these is dealt with in detail in the book: Eqbal’s friendship with Edward Said, a relationship of immense respect, admiration, solidarity and affinity between both. Regarding which the book holds some wonderful insights in the form of excerpts from the email correspondence between both and the letter of recommendation by Said when Ahmad applied for a job at Hampshire College.

Moreover, the book goes beyond illuminating Eqbal Ahmad’s words and ideas by engaging with his efforts and encounters through which he channelled his ideas and social and political activism; such as his role in organizing and establishing people-to-people Indo-Pak cultural exchanges back in 1980s, which Schaar writes, [they] intended to build a social movement which would….help create a groundswell to move both countries towards reconciliation and peace.”, and his plan to establish a liberal-arts university in Islamabad by the name of Khaldunia (named after the Arab polymath).

Furthermore, Schaar manages to focus on both Eqbal Ahmad’s personal experiences and his ideas and work; by blending both as complements for each other into the narration of his life. To add clarity to the book and lend lucidity to understanding Eqbal’s work, the book neatly divides several of his ideas, stances and polemics on particular issues: (i) Islam and Islamic History; (ii) Imperialism, Nationalism, Revolutionary Warfare, Insurgency and Need for Democracy; (iii) The Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict; (iv) India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh: the Problem of Nuclear Proliferation and Views on Partitioning States; and (v) Critique of US foreign policy: The Cold War and Terrorism. Although these sections do not cover the vast expanse of Eqbal’s ideas in detail, which perhaps can only be accessed through his essays, they are nonetheless, a fair glimpse of his perspective and analytical eminence.

Despite being his friend, Schaar does not remain from revealing Eqbal’s occasional idealism and resulting follies, such as his criticism and attacks on then prime-minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari in his Dawn columns all the while hoping and expecting her government to endorse and support his Khaldunia project, which consequently faced many hurdles to its realization.

However, Kabir Babar sees the book as not without its drawbacks for students of Eqbal new and old:

“This book is not without its flaws. A drawback of the anecdotal style in which it is written is that Ahmad’s life is presented with neither chronological nor thematic consistency.

And while the book is revealing, it is by no means a definitive biography, for there are numerous aspects of Eqbal Ahmad’s life that are either ignored or glossed over in this work. For instance, no mention is made of Ahmad’s encounters with Malcolm X and Fidel Castro. Also, while much is made of the impact that Ahmad’s exposure as a boy to Mohandas K. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore had on his thought, there is no reference to Syed Abul Ala Maududi, to whom Eqbal acknowledged owing an intellectual debt. Ahmad is said to have directly participated in the Algerian revolution, but few details are provided. In his foreword to a collection of Ahmad’s essays, physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy states that, during successive martial law governments in Pakistan, there were warrants of arrest and death sentences put out on Ahmad. None of this is mentioned in Schaar’s book.”

Nonetheless, Babar is right to point out that, “The subtitle of this book is well-chosen: because he was ideologically difficult to pigeonhole and the scope of his activities and intellect was global, Eqbal Ahmad was an outsider everywhere.”

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All in all, Schaar’s book weaves a truly vivid portrait of the man about whom the late Edward Said said, “Knowing him has been an education”, and on occasion of his [Ahmad] retirement from Hampshire College, “..to paraphrase from Kipling’s Kim – a friend of the world.”. Eqbal was a friend who saw the future before its time, who was an ally of the oppressed and dispossessed all over the world and was an epitome of intellectual honesty and courage – a friend who, in today’s global moment of confusion, crises and clamour, is all the more important to revisit. A revisit for which Schaar builds an important bridge through this book, for there is no doubt that knowing Eqbal Ahmad even today would still be an invaluable education for anyone seeking guidance and direction in hope for a more just, progressive and peaceful world.

—- Hafsa Khawaja

The Pakistan At The Periphery of The World’s View


Since the onset of Pakistan’s engagement in the War on Terror, the country nosedived in its entirety; politically, socially and economically. Not only was this unfortunate plunge a harbinger of possibly, the worst of times for it but heralded the introduction of a gamut of negative stereotypes in relation to Pakistan and its citizens.

Largely owing to the almost-routinely involvement of Pakistan or any individual with even a faint connection to it in incidents or reports of terrorism, the spread of these stereotypes and a fixed image of ‘The most dangerous place on Earth’ has completely buried the Pakistan that existed before and still exists for the world to witness.

Despite a tumultuous 64-year old journey and contrary to the belief that Pakistan ‘ a land virtually barren of achievements’ – it has had its fair share of achievements, pride and glory in every field.

Pakistan has played a significant role on the international stage.

Hardly two months after its creation in 1947, Sir Zafrullah represented Pakistan in United Nations General Assembly as the head of its delegation and soon emerged as the most excellent of a spokesperson for the causes of the Muslim World and other countries.

Perhaps, the greatest of the countless incomparable services he rendered was his exemplary advocacy of the cause of Palestine and Kashmir. Him being a champion of the former cause garnered enormous appreciation, acknowledgement and reverence from almost all Muslim countries and leaders at that time.

‘In October 1947 he delivered a speech on the Palestine issue in the UN General Assembly, which is one of the most strong case ever presented for Palestine to date.

[ Quoting from another blog on him ] :

‘His speech on Kashmir Issue on January 15, 1948 in the UN Security Council is considered as the most comprehensive presentation of the Kashmir Issue ever on international stage, his speech continued for 7 straight hours and resulted in materialization of UN resolutions on Kashmir.’

Through his stupendous championship of such causes, he also became an evident proponent of the advance of universal values, peace, human rights, democracy and justice as from 1948 to 1954 he represented Pakistan at the Security Council (UN) and outstandingly spoke for the liberation of Libya, Northern Ireland, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia and occupied Kashmir.

To date, none have come into sight that could rival the towering statesman, who was honored in his lifetime by numerous countries by bestowing highest of civil awards or a deserved deluge of praises, in prowess or services.

Pakistan’s Eeqbal Ahmed was a distinguished intellectual, ‘prolific writer and journalist, he was widely consulted by revolutionaries, journalists, activist leaders and policymakers around the world. ‘

He had joined Algeria’s National Liberation Front and was offered an opportunity to join the first independent Algerian government and refused in favor of life as an independent intellectual.

In the words of Edward Said, who penned a moving obituary on him in the Guardian in 1999, Eqbal Ahmad brought wisdom and integrity to the cause of oppressed peoples.

In a ‘Factfile’ for Islamabad Policy Research Institute titled ‘UN Peacekeeping Missions and Pakistan’, it is stated:

‘Pakistan is contributing to UN peacekeeping since 1960 and is the single largest contributor of UN peacekeeping forces, with more than 11,000 Pakistani military personnel serving in UN peacekeeping operations worldwide.

As of June 2013, the Ranking of Military and Police Contributions to UN Operations, states 114 countries contributing a total 91,216 military observers, police, and troops to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations; and Pakistan forms the single-largest contributor with the highest number of troops (military and law enforcement) to various UN Peacekeeping Operations worldwide.

Pakistan’s contingent for the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone in 1999-2005 is also said to be cited by the UN Peacekeeping Headquarters as a ‘Role Model for all UN Missions’.

‘The Pakistan Naval Academy, which was established in 1971, has since its inception trained over 2,000 personnel from other countries, including Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Qatar and Bahrain.’

Pakistan also has a history of hosting several communities of disparate peoples’ from around the world [ Either fleeing from violence or other reasons ] and refugees. It received about six million Afghan refugees from 1979 to 2001.

Along with hosting about 200,000 Burmese people who are largely based in Karachi [ To be precise, they are Rohingya Muslims from Western Burma who claim to have fled their homeland of Arakan State under the persecution of Muslim citizens by the Burmese Junta ]. A considerable number of Kurds from many countries also came to reside in the country and some still do.

In a report released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, with a staggering 1.6 million, Pakistan hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, nearly all from Afghanistan.

There was also a time, in the ’70s, ’80’s and 90’s and even just before the fateful year of 2001, when students from other countries, would come to Pakistan in pursuit of education; from Palestine, Iraq, Iran and other Middle Eastern Countries.

Apart from such matters, Pakistan has produced many notable personalities and individuals in other fields.

In the sports circuit, Jahangir Khan surfaced as the World’s No.1 player.


Stated on Ideas Evolved :

‘Pakistani control over the British Open and the World Open was created in 1976. The names of such great maestros such as Azam Khan, Roshan Khan, Mo Khan, Qamar Zaman, Jahangir Khan, and Jansher Khan have dominated the sport.

Moreover, Jahangir Khan is considered by many to be the greatest player ever to grace a squash court.

During his career he won the World Open six times and the British Open a record ten times.
Between 1981 and 1986, he was unbeaten in competitive play for five years. During that time he won 555 matches consecutively. This was not only the longest winning streak in squash history, but also one of the longest unbeaten runs by any athlete in top-level professional sports.’

Sultan Mohammed Khan Golden ‘a motorcar and motorcycle stuntman and jumping specialist, who introduced the sport of reverse motorcar jumping – set the world record by reverse jumping 150 feet over 15 cars.’

Sultan holds his self-set world record of jumping over 22 cars covering 249 feet distance, under his belt, among other things.

Hockey is the country’s national sport, in which it has thrice won the gold in 1960, 1968 and 1984 Olympics. Pakistan hockey team also won the Hockey world cup four times in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994. And the last major event: Champions trophy was won in 1978, 1980 and 1994.

Latif ur Rehman, Habib ur Rehman, Abdul Rasheed Jr and Dr. Atif Bashir are among Hockey legends from Pakistan.

In 1978, Pakistani hockey artistry also played a part in helping Argentina win the FIFA World Cup win.

The brilliant Sohail Abbas has the highest number of goals in field hockey history to his name: 348.

It is said, that there are only two major religions in Pakistan; Islam and Cricket.

Not only does the nation have utmost madness for it but Pakistan’s Cricket Team has shone since it ventured into the game. They won the World Cup in 1992, the T20 Cup in 2009 and since then, many Pakistani cricket players have made records and earned great wins, including that of the Blind Cricket Team and Pakistan’s Women Cricket Team.

 

brazuca-manufacture70% of the world’s footballs are made in the city of Sialkot. In the 1980s, Sialkot gained international recognition when it produced the Tango ball used in the 1982 FIFA World Cup and now, with the Brazuca of FIFA 2014.

Pakistan International Airlines was the first airline in the world to operate scheduled helicopter services. One of PIA’s Boeing 720s broke a world record that year, when it flew from London to Karachi non-stop in 6 hours and 43 minutes and 51 seconds during its delivery flight from Seattle, a record unbroken to this day. Also in 1978 the airline provided help to Somali Airlines, Air Malta and Yemen.

artworks-000003919565-07myxb-originalPakistan boasts of internationally acclaimed musician, late legend and maestro, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who is said to be one of the most celebrated artists to have ever been born. Many famous artists like Peter Gabriel, A. R Rahman and the late Jeff Buckley admired and were influenced by him. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan made it to TIME magazine’s list of ‘Asian Hereos’ in 2006.

ytutA renowned painter and master of the Chughtai Art, who was admired by the likes of Picasso and Queen Elizabeth II, the late Abdur Rehman Chughtai’s works are at the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Peace Palace Hague, United Nations Headquarters, New York, Kennedy Memorial Boston, US State Department Washington DC, President’s House Bonn, Nizam of Hyderabad’s Palace, Queen Julianna’s Palace in the Netherlands, Emperor’s Palace Bangkok.

Pakistan’s Ismail Gulgee was also globally known for his outstanding work as an artist. 

                    Edhi

Abdul Sattar Edhi, the illustrious philanthropist and a truly inspiring ‘living saint’ runs the the world’s largest ambulance help service and charity.

Dr. Abdus Salam

Coming to the sphere of science, Pakistan has the distinction of being the homeland of Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam who, although tragically shunned by the state, was a man beyond brilliance. He helped lay the groundwork for the discovery of Higgs Boson.

 

Rahman Syed

Rahman Anwar Syed, on whom the Malaysian exalted title of Datuk was bestowed for his contribution to the social and economic well-being of Malaysia is best known for his discovery of the biological method of oil palm pollination. 

To name one, in the literary domain Pakistan’s Bapsi Sidhwa is admired by many. Pakistan’s writers and novelists are also winning acclaim and the country’s literature festivals continue to attract thousands each year.

The prestigious Harvard Medal of Freedom award has only been given to a total of three people, including Nelson Mandela and Pakistan’s former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Ali Moeen Nawazish is a record-holder for 22 A’s in A-levels. 17-year old Ibrahim Shahid set the record recently by 23 A’s in O-levels.

The late prodigy Arfa Karim, was surpassed by compatriot Babar Iqbal, who at 12 of age, became the Youngest Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) and she, at the age 9 had became the Youngest Microsoft Certified Professional.
He also set up three other world records Youngest Certified Wireless Network Administrator at the same age, Youngest Certified Web Professional Associate at age 10 years and in 2009, the feather of the Youngest Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist was added to his hat.

 11-year-old Sitara Akbar, became the youngest student in the world to have passed the British Ordinary Level (O’Level) examination – passing six O’level subjects including Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

In addition to this, she also attained seven bands out of nine, in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) , scoring 7.5 in the testing system.

               

Nazir Sabir and Hassan Sadpara are two Pakistanis who achieved the feat of climbing Mount Everest.

While Samina Baig is the first Pakistani and Muslim woman to have achieved the feat of scaling seven highest peaks in seven continents.

 

Visual-effects specialist and artist Mir Zafar Ali was part of the team that won the Oscar award for best visual effects in 2007 for The Golden Compass; he has a plethora of hugely successful films to his credits, including Frozen which earned him his latest Academy Award. Other movies to his credit are: The Cabin in the Woods (2011), X-Men: First Class (2011), Hop (2011), Yogi Bear (2011), Aliens in the Attic (2009), Island of the Lost (2009), The Mummy (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), The Golden Compass (2007), Surf’s Up (2007), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Ghost Rider (2007), Open Season (2006), Monster House (2006), Stealth (2005), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

The second and more-famed Pakistani to win an Oscar was Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for her documentary ‘Saving Face’.

To mention a historic event in its history, the Muslim World’s first female Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto was elected twice in Pakistan as was the Speaker of the Parliament Fahmida Mirza in 2008. Today, from ministers, political parties’ members, journalists, human rights activists, social entrepreneurs to teachers, singers, actresses to doctors, police officials to fighter pilots – Pakistani women are leaving no field behind in their participation.

Pakistan’s fascinating ‘lost children of Alexander’, the pagan Kalash tribe are relatively well-known but lesser known are the indigenous Africans of Pakistan called the ‘Sheedis’; both of which only add to the cultural vibrancy in the country.

Bu7ylhyIQAAhYBbWith looming mountains and paradisaical scenery  in the northern areas, green fields in Punjab, desert areas in Balochistan and meandering rivers in Sindh, all four seasons that are followed by different natural delicacies and festivities of the people, sumptuous food and scrumptious desserts [ Be it the spicy biryani of Sindh, the delectable ’siri paey’ of Punjab, savory Balochi ’sajji’ or the mouth-watering ‘namak mandi’ of the northern areas] while possessing a string of fascinating monuments, forts and remains of the different civilizations; Moenjodaro, Harrapa, Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque, Sheesh Mahal, Rawat Fort, Rohtas Fort, Derawar Fort etc  – Pakistan is a land with its fair share of problems, but a vivacious historical and cultural landscape.

Above all and everything else, Pakistan is the country that has stood against all odds gallantly as their lives became dispersed into a cycle of terrorism that has, till now, consumed 50,000.
As the terrorists blew their mosques, schools, buildings, shrines, hospitals and the bodies and limbs of their loved ones were strewn on streets, and nature shook its geography loose by earthquakes and the most devastating floods in recent history  – Pakistan held together, braved through all with resilience.

This single fact stands tall on its existence and is a feat itself.

Pakistan isn’t a land virtually barren of achievements; it is just, among all other descriptions and harsh facts, of mettle and and lioneheartedness an emobidement.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

* This is a site that was created solely for the purpose of cataloging and informing people of all the positive news related to Pakistan these days. The achievements and other seldom- good news.

Chaos and Revolution


As published in the Newspost :

This is in response to Ghani Khan’s letter (News Post, Nov 3). He has raised some very important points and I am in complete agreement with him. With this nation being unorganised and hankering for a French – or Iran-style revolution, what we forget is the intellectual revolution that took place in Europe and is called ‘The Age of Enlightenment’. It produced great thinkers like Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Mikhail Lomonosov, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and many others. These were the men who woke the people up from their slumber, taught them to question and learn while setting the stage for change.
In Pakistan, intellectual freedom is not practised so talking about a revolution is useless. It has become our hobby to put the blame for every mishap on ‘foreign hands’ and people do not look beyond such preposterous theories. Our nation needs to realise that without a change in ourselves, there can be no change in Pakistan. As Marilyn Ferguson said, “The greatest revolution in our generation is that of human beings, who by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Hafsa Khawaja
Lahore